On the road to coastal Georgia in November

The road from our  house around to the Stone Mountain batholith curves and winds up and down. Batholith is a clever way of saying a large single chunk of granite that has formed and cooled underground during the Appalachian mountain-building phase about 280 million years ago and now has eroded up and out of the ground. From Stone Mountain the highway bends less yet continues to roll over red dirt as we head toward Macon. I am half awake and the sun is coming up. I am cheating John Muir in his historic walk from the Appalachians to Savannah by means of following the Savannah river.

After Macon my wife is driving and fall asleep for a short period of time. When I jolt awake I notice the road has flattened and the road-cut through the tiny dips and hills looks like a miniature version of the badlands. Rolling water from the otherwise flat surface is gouging conical and fantastic mazes in the sand. The sand is white with a reddish tint. I also notice spanish moss hanging from the trees and I see scrub pines.

Another 100 miles roll by until I notice John Muir’s Palmetto trees and bushes populating the side of the road between the pines in the ever-increasing white sand earth. Muir was so excited to see his first Palmetto. He grew up in Scotland and emigrated to Illinois via New York and this was his first trip south when he walked the Savannah to the sea. Little did he know that some Palmettos grow in Scotland and the most northerly Palmetto lives in norther Scotland outside a hotel by a lac.  Oh well.

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It is our last day in Savannah on Sunday and we are up early and ready for the trudge home. We roll down a partial dirt road to Bonaventure cemetery where Muir slept each night to get away from the Collera and Typhus that rand rampant in Savannah in his era. He slept under some bushes near the Wilmington River in this cemetery.  The dead can’t make you sick, only the living can do that. 

I would be less scared of ghosts and more scared of alligators, I think as I look at the marshy terrain as it leads to the river bank from the old part of the cemetery. The day is so fresh; birds sing. There is a certain slight coolness and dampness in the air, but the sun is direct and hot on my shoulders. A boat passes lazily down the river creating small wake that lumbers like a day laborer in August to the shore. Lush green bushes and palmettos are canopied by live oaks and dangling spanish moss. The scene is sufficiently morose and life-giving at the same time. We awkwardly walk about and gaze at the remembrances of those who have come before us.  My 11-year-old daughter pulls a scrap paper and pencil from the glove box and sits in the grass facing the river with her back to the grave stones and pens a poem. Something small and benign stirs under the bushes. The journey is complete.

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What’s it Going to Take to Get you to Reccommend my Brand?

That’s it. When you start reading about NPS (Net Promoter Score) in Dutch marketing LinkedIn Groups you know we beyond it being a trend. Today at lunch I swapped stories with a customer which both ended the same way: ‘If only that customer had told us that they were dissatisfied, we could have fixed the problem.’  In a world where Social Media allows disgruntled voices to be heard all the way to Washington, the word-of-mouth for any brand has never been more important.  Sales numbers are tightly correlated to customers willingness to not only continue being a customer, but also to recommend your brand to others. The WTR (willingness to recommend) is another key metric being heard around the world.

While there is a growing practice to help businesses figure out these scores in their respective vertical markets, a few key tips are becoming evident to anyone being measured by NPS. Even if this metric has not made it to your desk yet, it is worth the time to become acquainted as it is most likely on its way. 

Here are a few principles of the emerging NPS science and how technology can drive results.

1. What really matters. This is the story of the chicken and the egg. The willingness to promote a product or service may actually come down to not how effective you are at hearing complaints, but rather the quality of your product or service. I believe overall quality of a product or service will have the greatest effect on NPS over any other factor. This means if you rely on a data network to produce, ship or service your product, it has never been more important to choose the most reliable carrier available. If speed and availability of e-servicing is a key component, it has never been a better time to consider Cloud services.

2. Catching a pulse. By not listening you will never hear what is keeping your customers from becoming evangelists of your brand. Social Media Operations Centers charged with listening for both the good and the bad are imperative. Taking a measured approach to fixing problems that customers complain about  in a thoughtful priority is a discipline needed by any organization wishing to improve their scores. For example, even if you cannot afford to put more staff in a call center, you can rethink call flows and leverage other ways to service customers. Likewise, even if you don’t have the cash for a Radian 6 social listening device, finding a way to stay on top of comments about service and brand are a must.

3. Listen and respond. Sometimes correcting problems is as easy a correcting perceptions. Sometimes problems are just misunderstandings or employees having a bad day. When ‘not so excellent’ service is being rendered and a customer goes Social and very public with it, using quick communications to someone who can correct the problem can be golden. Stories about this are rampant: the cafe clerk who would not make a fresh pot of coffee a few minutes before closing time. A supervisor was called who corrected the action immediately.  Or, the story of the seminal airline blogger with thousands of followers who was tapped by Virgin Atlantic to take a free flight on a new segment they were opening from Toronto to LA.  The bloggers’ posts reached a target demographic and was the cheapest and most effective form of advertising during the entire campaign.

Concentrating on NPS scores is kind of like watching for the ‘check engine’ light to go off in your car. The key to better scores lies in many other areas that surround your core operations. Doing it with heart is a key differentiator. See this wonderful article by fellow blogger, and Duke graduate, Tom MCcrary describing the role of hospitality in the equation.

How is your organization measuring Net Promoter Scores? What innovative ideas are springing up? What initiatives have had the greatest success for you?

Raking Leaves, Gaining Perspective

I went to a career panel discussion on Friday on getting ahead in these challenging times. Sometimes wisdom happens in reverse. I was intrigued by the different perspectives that each panelist gave. Sometimes they even disagreed on simple matters such as the importance of having an advanced degree in your field. It is amazing to me that we all are obliged to do the same type of work each day, but we each approach it differently.

This weekend I was raking up leaves in front of my house. It was a glorious day: blue sky, no wind and mild temperatures. My mind wandered as I raked. I thought about how many autumns I have raked leaves and how my approach to the same task had changed over time. I distinctly remember waiting until they all fell 20 years ago. I would eagle-eye the weather forecast in St Paul to beat the first snow (only narrowly) with my leaf clean up. I often was seen furiously raking as the snow fell. Over time, I learned that there was intelligence in doing a few pre-rakings on warmer Fall days in advance of the final ‘Minnesota lawn shut-down until March thaw.”  At first it seemed like it would always get windy right after I raked and my neighbor’s leaves would blow into my raked yard cancelling out my hard work. Recently, I have taken a new approach. I rake whenever I can. I have learned to see the beauty of work for the sake of doing it and I let my mind wander as I work.

On Saturday two neighbors stopped to talk to me as I raked. Both of them have yard services who manicure their lawns. The first neighbor called out that the wind was going to be blowing Sunday and I would just have to rake again. The second bemoaned her bad back and how much she hated raking. I responded to both saying what a beautiful day it was and that raking was helping me day-dream. In fact, I can’t wait to rake again next weekend even if it is the same patches of grass as I raked last weekend.

I day-dreamed about the panelists from Friday after my neighbors passed. It occurred to me that each had taken their own path to make their career fulfilling. This may have included different approaches to their career at different stages in their lives. It was much like my raking. In fact, it was a perfect analogy.

The advice I needed (and, indeed, I think we all need) is to stay the course we have chosen and be true to ourselves. Our internal bliss is worth more than many millions of dollars and career frustration will certainly derail us.  There are no right or wrong ways. The only choice we have to make is how we approach the work. Either way the work must be done.  Fortuna est caeca!

Quartz mine in South Carolina

My father-in-law is getting worse. He is in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease, so my wife went up to see him this weekend. My daughter has hit middle school where hanging out with friends watching movies on a Kindle in a room with the shades drawn trumps all other offers that I can produce for a fun weekend. So, it was just me, my son and the dog. We were up before dawn on Saturday loading up the car with old 20 gallon sheet rock cement buckets, shovels and hammers. Our destination was Diamond Mine in South Carolina. It is an old open mine and the Georgia Mineral Society had a sponsored field day there.

The mist wafted up in narrow plumes on Lake Hartwell as we crossed the Georgia line into South Carolina. We exited and drove through Anderson and headed east on SC 28 going back in time. The sun rose above the blinding morning angles and the full extent of the landscape was visible: rolling hills of red clay and scrub with cattle feeding, a field of cotton, a house with a wide front porch and a swing with a dog lying under it, a couch with a half-finished tumbler of something resting on the arm next to a mailbox.  We headed down a gravel road listening to an AM station I picked up out of Greenville.

At the mine we climbed over the old soil-piles of red earth and began picking at the rocks buried in all this earth. It was like examining a giant mudslide with a rock here or there that was totally caked in the mud. I rubbed at the stones with my gloved hand looking for the points of quartz crystals that grow to mammoth proportions in that hole. If I found one I chucked it into the bucket. The funny thing is you could see some of the points but you really could not tell what you had until you got home and washed the clay off.

It turns out that we found a few nice specimens, but my favorite part was sitting on the top of a large heap of clay looking out across the valley alive with fall colors. The air was warm with a hint of crispness from that morning. The dog was in the car and my son was picking away at the red earth looking for treasure. I reflected. Over the years all this red mud was worn off the Appalachian mountains in the distance. It flooded down the side pushed by weather that has always come from the west due to the rotation of our planet. The earth pushed these harder quartz crystals along with the slurry down beneath my feet. I was here for just one morning, one small sliver of time for all the things that I was looking upon. My son continued to look around for rocks in the mud. I was finished for the day. After all, I already had my treasure.